How do you get back after a career break?

Meera Siva | Updated on January 08, 2018


SUBHA VISHWANATHAN, Software engineer

Boguslaw Mazur/   -  Boguslaw Mazur/

Women who returned to the job circuit tell us what worked for them

Taking time off from one’s career for personal reasons is a difficult decision. Harder still is getting back to full-time professional work. Women who had to take a break often find that there are many stumbling blocks to restarting. The experiences of those who have been through the process and navigated it successfully show that relaunching is a multi-dimensional problem. It requires changes in one’s attitude, eco-system support and understanding from one’s employer.


The most critical aspect in successfully restarting is the individual’s ability to re-assess one’s strengths and reinvent oneself. Take the inspiring example of Mumbai-based Geetha Balsara, an advertising executive who took a break in 2006 after working for 21 years.

“I was very committed to my job and was in a senior position — CEO of a mid-sized ad agency — when my husband Neville died suddenly,” she recalls. Her daughter Taarini was in junior college and the loss was difficult for the family, especially her parents. She went on with a brave face, but when she lost her father the same year, she decided to take a break.

However, she needed money to run the family. “I was open to trying any opportunity that came my way. I took up teaching colleges — 12 in all, including business schools; arranged classical music concerts; conducted corporate training events, among others,” she says.

She also took up writing for music albums. Starting with her work for Sonu Nigam, she did free note writing for 200 albums for publishers such as HMV.

Her break was extended with her mother needing care. And when she restarted in 2010, things were not smooth. “The travel was long and I was out of touch with the long hours needed in this line of work,” she says. Losing her seniority was also difficult to cope with, but she took a positive attitude and adjusted to the demands of the profession.

“One cannot afford to slip into self-pity or let inertia settle in”, says Geetha . One must do a SWOT analysis to find one’s strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats currently in the market and reposition oneself, she advises.

Reach out

Younger women and in different professions have varied issues to cope with. Subha Vishwanathan, who started her software engineering career in 2002, had different experiences in her two career breaks. “I took a one-year break when my son was born and a break for one-and-a-half years for my second child,” she says.

The first time, the break was short and she kept track of developments in the industry. So, re-entry was not an issue. But during the second break, she lost touch and felt a bit unsure.

She was one of the 100 participants in the first edition of PayPal’s Recharge, an initiative that helps women technologists to get back to work. She says the six-week program was very streamlined — writing a resume, presenting oneself, technology and business-oriented boot camp with soft skills training.

“It gave me a clearer vision and a solid footing to have faith in my abilities. I was among the 10 women hired by PayPal,” she says. The family has recruited help to manage household chores so that quality time is spent — for work and with children.

Jyothi Rao, who was a senior finance analyst, found similar corporate support. She took a maternity break for a year-and-a-half in late 2015. “Companies were reluctant to hire me as I had taken a break,” she says.

She found help with HSBC’s Take 2 program and is employed there currently. She says that it helps to prioritise one’s requirements and look for opportunities in larger firms that have such programs.

Subha says that the difficult thing is often taking the first step to reach out and find support from programs. Coming back to work is not necessarily the insurmountable challenge it once was; an increasing number of companies are adapting to a family-friendly work culture,” she notes.


There are many resources that women can tap to smooth their re-entry. One, there are many online portals such as jobsforher that offer support by way of personality development, reskilling, networking, flexible opportunities.

Two, corporates often encourage and support women employees who took a break. For instance, Amazon’s Rekindle program offers structured on-boarding, focused mentoring, flexible work options and on-the-job learning.

ThoughtWorks runs an initiative called Vapasi for women with over six years of experience in technology. Intel’s Home to Office, GE’s RESTART for women scientists and engineers, Hindustan Lever’s Career by Choice, IBM’s Bring Her Back Program, Accenture’s Career Reboot for Women, Microsoft’s Springboard are other examples of such programs.

Three, there are also internship programs — often called returnship — offered by companies. Coined by Goldman Sachs for the program they started for mid-career women, it is program that helps women reskill.

Tata has been running a Second Chance Internship Programme since 2008 to provide opportunities for women to take on flexi-hour assignments with various TATA group companies. Philips offers Back in the Game internship program for experienced women.

Four, look at flexible working arrangements to ease the transition. Many websites list such opportunities and this may provide a way to get back to full-time work. Five, you can consider options beyond the corporate. For example, the Department of Science and Technology in India provides scholarships to women in the age group of 30-50 years to be scientists or technologists associated with an institution.

And it helps to keep your options open as there are many choices beyond traditional, structured work. Geetha says she has worn many hats, including content writing, book editing, motivational speaking and doing special projects for Sonu Nigam.

“When you are open, so are the opportunities,” she asserts.

Published on October 08, 2017

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